Obesity is the number one health concern for pets in the UK. Running with your dog is a great way for you and your pet to get fit and healthy this spring and summer.

Katrin Scholz, AniForte, Head Nutritionist has some top tips for running enthusiasts who want to share their passion with their dogs.

Age first

Before you make big plans with your new running buddy consider their age and health. Your dog should be at least 18 months old so they have stronger more developed bones for this type of exercise. If you have a more mature dog that has breathing, mobility or joint issues – walks are a more suitable past time.

If your dog is overweight you should get him checked out by a vet before you start a more strenuous exercise regime. You will need to build up the distance slowly with these dogs to increase their fitness gradually.

Start small

Much like yourself, if your dog is a beginner they need to start small. Often our four legged friends seem full of energy but don’t be fooled, they are like you and also need to work on their fitness before taking on marathons! Build up your mileage together over time. Gentle jogging for short distances on soft ground is a good starting point for young dogs.

Beware age and shape

Be aware of how your dog’s breed and weight may make them more prone to overheating or joint discomfort.  Overweight, older dogs and those suffering from heart disease are more likely to be affected.

Think thirst

Make sure that while you rehydrate you do this for your running buddy too. When you take a water break offer it to them too.

Feel the heat

Dogs are much more sensitive to heat and it is more difficult for them to cool down. They can’t sweat, instead they lose heat through their paws and panting. Heat exhaustion is very dangerous for them, avoid running if it is a very warm day. If your dog stops don’t encourage them to do more than they are able to this could be a sign they are overheating.

Go the distance

You can run with any breed of dog but breeds with a short muzzle such as pugs can suffer from breathing problems and may only be able to run very short distances at a gentle pace. All dogs should be allowed to run short distances to start with and then you can build up to doing longer runs. Signs you are running too far with your dog include lagging behind, pulling to one side or trying to stop, thick frothy saliva from the mouth, trying to find shade or water and of course starting to limp.

What speed should you run at?

When starting out you should begin with a gentle jog. For owners with small breeds you may not be able to progress to a faster speed but larger dogs that like to run will mean you can eventually sprint if you want to!

What to feed your dog

The food should be of high quality and easily digestible, lower amounts of food also aid digestion. The digestibility of protein and fat is important if you are regularly running with your dog. BARF and high protein diets enable you to have a more detailed understanding of exactly what is in your dog’s dinner. It is also advisable to give your dog a small snack within two hours after running.

When to feed your dog when you’re running

Try to feed around four hours before exercise, this should aid endurance and give some time for your dog to empty its bowels before running. Running too soon after eating can be uncomfortable.

Watch out for ‘Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus’ (GDV) GDV, which can be life-threatening in dogs. This is when their stomach twists and swells with gas. Dogs that do strenuous exercise or drink huge amounts of water 2 – 3 hours after eating are more vulnerable to contracting GDV. This is something to keep in mind with all breeds but affects more large breeds such as German Shepherds, Dobermans, Great Danes and setters. It is also more of a problem with mature dogs and more common in pedigree breeds.

Symptoms of GDV include increased breathing rate or laboured breathing, excessive drooling, vomiting, frothing at the mouth, they may gag or try to vomit.  Other signs include enlarged abdomens, gums can become pale and the heart rate gets very high. If you suspect GDV, you should seek veterinary help immediately.